State park sees great turnout for family day

Published 8:29 pm Saturday, August 15, 2015

Friends paddleboard and kayak in the lake Saturday at the Paul M. Grist State Park Family Fun Day.

Friends paddleboard and kayak in the lake Saturday at the Paul M. Grist State Park Family Fun Day.

With millions of dollars worth of state budget cuts looming, Alabama State Parks need attention more now than ever, and Paul M. Grist State Park got some much needed love Saturday with its Family Fun Day.

The park hosted a few hundred people in hopes of reigniting a passion for the park and the outdoor activities it offers to people in Selma and Dallas County.

“I had never been here until November of last year, and when you come down that hill, you can’t help but say wow,” said Kelly Ezell, superintendent for the state park system’s central district. “When you see the lake it is so unexpected, and it is just beautiful. It is just a beautiful place.”

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Ezell said the fun day was all about getting attention, and it did just that. Park rangers estimate a crowd of more than 200 people visited throughout the day Saturday.

It means a great deal to me to see the support,” Ezell said, as people laughed and enjoyed the outdoors. “We really appreciate seeing this kind of crowd, which we don’t normally have.”

The park hoped to get a crowd of people, and it did. The attention was much needed after the park was placed on the chopping block along with three others due to proposed budget cuts in the spring.

“It would be just a travesty to lose this and for this to no longer be a state park. This has been here for many years, and people take it for granted,” Ezell said.

“We hope that everybody will take this seriously. It is a real possibility that we could lose some parks, and that is just something that we don’t want to see happen. The state park system is about keeping them all open and keeping them functioning and improving them to make them better every day.”

Ezell said she hopes there are more days to come like Family Fun Day, where people continue to show support and take advantage of the 100-acre lake and its surroundings at Paul M. Grist State Park.

“It is so important for people to keep showing support because our slogan with Alabama State Parks is partners pave the way, and partners are the people who use this park day in and day out, as well as those who come out like Forever Wild and the Alabama Wildlife Center,” Ezell said.

“We are partners, and we say they pay the way because our user fees people pay when they come in our park is what we use to run the park. We’re 90 percent self supported, which is huge in comparison to other state parks in other states.”

Fran Powe, her husband Thomas and son Henry were the first ones through the gate Saturday morning. The family traveled from Tuscaloosa to enjoy the park, which Thomas camped at when he was younger.

“We just wanted something to do on a Saturday that was family friendly to get outside and enjoy the weather,” Powe said.

“Thomas is from Selma and is friends with the state park on Facebook, and we were invited to come out from Facebook, so we decided to come.”

The day offered a plethora of activities that included guided hikes on the six miles worth of trails the park has, fishing, paddleboarding and kayaking on the 100-acre lake and animal shows that featured snakes and raptors from the Alabama Wildlife Center.

Earl Edwards, who has been to the park all of his life, brought his grandson to Paul M. Grist to enjoy the day.

“Look around today and see how many people are enjoying it today. It is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen out here,” Edwards said, as he watched his grandson, Meigs, cast his fishing pole.

Edwards said it would be awful to see the park close as well as the other parks that were on the chopping block.

“It is just a good clean, nature area,” Edwards said. “I would hope that they would not close the parks like this, that they would find a way to adjust the state’s spending, so they could afford to operate the parks and all.”

With a state budget still up in arms, the future for some of Alabama’s state parks is still in question.